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Let the watering wait, officials say

Planning to wash the car today? Think twice.

In fact, regional water officials would prefer that everyone skip watering the lawn or washing the car this weekend.

A lack of rain along with increasing water demand caused officials Friday to issue a water use advisory.

"This is a warning that we could have trouble," said John Heuer, director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. "At present, the well fields are producing at their maximum capacity."

Swiftmud, the state regulatory agency, and the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority, the wholesale supplier of water for the area, issued the advisory with the warning: "Should heavy water use continue, more stringent measures may be imposed."

That could come quickly, possibly by the end of the weekend, Heuer said. Water officials will be checking the pumping stations today and Sunday to see if water use slows.

Tampa Bay residents with even-number addresses are allowed to water Tuesdays and Saturdays; those with odd-number addresses can water Wednesdays and Sundays.

Lawn watering and car washing are prohibited from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on watering days in most Pinellas and Hillsborough communities. Hillsborough County, Tampa and Belleair restrict watering from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Swiftmud officials have asked local law enforcement agencies to step up efforts to observe water use guidelines.

If things don't get better, Heuer said, the regulatory agency could cut residents to once-a-week outdoor watering or no watering at all. Water management officials say they want to see how things go before they get to that point.

"We don't have, quote, a problem, as long as it doesn't get any worse," said West Coast's Bruce Kennedy.

On an average day, the Pasco and northwest Hillsborough well fields that are the source of concern pump about 60-million gallons out of the ground and into homes and businesses. Heuer said roughly 50 percent of water use during the weekend will be for outdoor activities.

The average amount of pumping this week was 82-million gallons, said Kennedy, director of resource management. The system's maximum pumping capacity is between 80-million and 85-million.

Swiftmud wants to see daily use drop by 10-million to 15-million gallons, Heuer said.

What really has water management officials worried are the back-to-back watering days: Saturday and Sunday. Weekend activity makes them big watering days.

To make matters worse, the National Weather Service says the highs will be in the 90s, and the summer pattern of afternoon and evening thunderstorms still hasn't begun.

"It's going to stay pretty hot," said Mike Crow, a weather service meteorologist. "The summer pattern (of thunderstorms) hasn't really gotten fixed in yet. . . .

"It's fair to say the rainy season is late."